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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Ethiopia's released students tell their stories
Detention centre near Addis Ababa
Students say that in detention they were beaten if they spoke
Nita Bhalla hears from some of the thousands of students from Addis Ababa University who were released on Thursday after eight days in detention following riots last week.

Most students appeared exhausted and weak as they congregated outside the University campus to retell what they have described as their "unforgettable experience".


Not even dogs are treated in the manner we were

released student
Family members and other students gathered around to hear first hand of how thousands of students were taken from churches where they sought refuge last Wednesday, and transported in the middle of the night to a police training college in the village of Sendafa, 38 km outside of Addis.

The students, who were all male, wore soiled clothes and had bloodshot eyes and looked weary.

As they were pressed by crowds to detail their experiences over the past eight days, they anxiously looked around - fearful that police or plain clothes security men may arrest them once again.

Beaten

They say up to 3,000 students were crammed into an assembly hall at the police camp and claim that they were monitored at all times by armed police officers, who beat them severely if they spoke aloud or attempted to communicate with one another.

Detained students
The authorities deny mistreating the detainees
Students say they were given little food and forced to do rigorous exercise in the sweltering heat, until they collapsed from exhaustion.

"In one room there were 3,500 of us. We were beaten and not even given any food or water" said one student.

"In 34 hours we were given one slice of bread. Is that enough for a human being to live on?"

One 20 year-old pharmacy student cried when I asked them about the conditions in the camp.

"Not even dogs are treated in the manner we were," he said.


In 34 hours we were given one slice of bread. Is that enough for a human being to live on?

Student detainee
Authorities at the camp last week denied this and said that proper food and medical attention was being given to all the students.

The students say they are innocent and were not involved in any violence or rioting.

Interrogated

They were however rigorously interrogated and their photos and fingerprints taken.

One law student showed me his finger tips, which still had ink on it.

He said that this was unconstitutional and illegal and said that they now have criminal files which the police could use to implicate them in the future.

Police running down the road towards
The riots were Addis Ababa's worst for 10 years
The government has accused certain opposition parties of inciting the riots and more than 100 members from the two main opposition parties have so far been arrested.

In an attempt to incriminate the parties, the students claim that the police are trying to link the students with the opposition.

"We were asked about our ethnic identity, which political party we support and even what newspaper we read," said one student.

Despite their release, the students this afternoon were adamant that they would not resume classes.

To gain re-admission, students have been asked to fill in a pre-conditional form admitting that they were responsible for the violence which took place last Tuesday and Wednesday.

The students are refusing and say they are innocent.

However, a 2nd year geography student said there was room for compromise.

"Even if I suffer the most, even if I am one of the victims, if the government is on the way to negoatiate with us regarding our rights, we welcome this. But I can assure you the government is not willing to give us a good response even with the majority of students wishing to restart classes".

It now remains to be seen how the government reacts to this.

Most believe the government has taken an uncompromising and unrelenting approach and many Ethiopians say the government needs to meet the students halfway before the situation escalates beyond all control.

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See also:

26 Apr 01 | Africa
Ethiopian students released
21 Apr 01 | Africa
Anger over Ethiopian detainees
18 Apr 01 | Africa
More clashes in Addis Ababa
17 Apr 01 | Africa
'Brutal' attack by Addis police
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